NO is Old Man Gloom‘s first proper full-length since 2004′s Christmas. And like Christmas, it is a hulking, enigmatic entity that variates between their unique hybridization of pummeling, heavy and groovy metal / hardcore and minimal, textural, meandering passages. But the years in between albums have let their approach mature into a more unified, organic gestalt; the album is strong throughout and never drags or loses the listener’s interest.
Opener “Grand Inversion” sets a haunting groundwork for the mood of the record with pipe organ swells and lapping waves of white noise. In terms of sound, this record is absolutely fucking massive. The mix is thicker than molasses and pushed way into the red when the band kicks in on the second track, “Common Species”. The groove tramples the listener until a minute and a half in, when the tempo halves and the most glitched out, fucked up breakdown ever recorded onto tape pours out of the speakers like Karo syrup the color of blood. The track ends with dissonant white noise that slowly evolves into a gorgeous cadence which woudn’t feel out of place on some Philip Glass soundtrack.
“Regain/Rejoin” jumps right back into the fray with a bouncy 3/4 groove that could possibly bring a building down with its force. The floor shaking continues in ‘To Carry The Flame”. The track blossoms into a triumphant, driving beast with soaring background vocals before letting an interlude of backwards guitar take over momentarily. The calm doesn’t last long before “The Forking Path” rolls in. The already-massive rhythm slowly crossfades into a black-hole-massive heaviness that desperately wants to rip your speakers to shreds and set your stereo on fire.
“Shadowed Hand” begins as the most minimalistic track on the record. For its first few minutes it is a misty, grainy landscape of rumbling sub frequencies and organic psychahdelic cave sounds before a dark, provincial guitar melody pulls it along to a giant, grandiose climax with Swans-like chugging rhythm and reverb drenched choir background vocals. The song ends with a jarring, angular rhythm that never relents on the heavy groove. “Rats” begins similarly by creating a soundscape, this time vocally driven, sounding like a mix between primates and Tuvan throat singers until the driving toms fade in and the band explodes into a rolling boil, pushing forward mercilessly like a flash flood through a trailer park.
“Crescent” is an acoustic track with a bunch of glitched out cymbals and more white noise waves, serving as a resting point before the epic “Shuddering Earth”, which, for its first two minutes, blasts with aggression then falls away and leaves the listener with a single guitar line to pull them along until, again, a few minutes later, the angular groove comes back full force. This back and forth play with volume, duration, and intensity creates compelling musical pieces in a way that few “metal” or “hardcore” bands can come close to. This iconoclasm is one of the many reasons why NO is successful on so many levels. The album can cryptic, heady, and require a fair bit of patience from the listener, but the experience is wholly unique and incredibly rewarding.
Artist: Old Man Gloom
Label: Hydra Head
Release Date: June 26th, 2012
Rating: 5/5 Jalapeños